John Powers

John Powers is the pop culture and critic-at-large on NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross. He previously served for six years as the film critic.

Powers spent the last 25 years as a critic and columnist, first for LA Weekly, then Vogue. His work has appeared in numerous publications, including Harper's BAZAAR, The Nation, Gourmet, The Washington Post, and The New York Times.

A former professor at Georgetown University, Powers is the author of Sore Winners, a study of American culture during President George W. Bush's administration. His latest book, WKW: The Cinema of Wong Kar Wai (co-written with Wong Kar Wai), is an April 2016 release by Rizzoli.

He lives in Pasadena, California, with his wife, filmmaker Sandi Tan.

Copyright 2019 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

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Things are looking bright for pessimists these days — the world has caught up with their sense of gloom. Well over half of those living in the developed world think their countries are heading in the wrong direction, away from the prosperity and stability that people over age 40 once took for granted.

Sequels have come to seem inescapable in movies and TV, where the commercial logic is to keep a franchise going — even if it has nowhere to go. That's why I was leery of Season 2 of Big Little Lies. I'd been a fan of the original HBO series, a sneaky deep blend of satire and mystery that built to a satisfying finale in which its sexually violent villain is killed and the show's five heroines testify that his death was an accident. The story was over. But the show was too successful to end.

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When Lena Dunham's Girls appeared seven years ago, it cleared the path for a parade of smart, provocative television shows about smart, provocative young heroines.

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This is FRESH AIR. Over the past 40 years, Sir David Attenborough has become internationally known and respected for his groundbreaking documentary shows about the natural world. His new eight-part series "Our Planet" is currently streaming on Netflix. Our critic at large John Powers says this one is different.

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It's a commonplace that we never really know other people, not even those we love. This idea gets pushed to the limit in Mrs. Wilson, a new three-part drama from PBS' Masterpiece starring the electric English actress Ruth Wilson, whom you may know from Luther and The Affair. Based on the bizarre true story of Wilson's grandparents, Mrs.

It is the dream of every neglected artist that their work will be redeemed by posterity. And sometimes it is. Back in 1970, for instance, the big movie was Patton — a box office hit that won the Best Picture Oscar. But today, it's overshadowed by another film from that year that almost nobody saw, a gritty story about a drifting woman.

It has become the nature of television to ramp up everything, even things that don't need it — like murder. We've grown so accustomed to seeing hot-button crimes and high-powered cops that it feels almost radical when a crime show goes in the other direction and plays it straight.

About halfway through John le Carré's Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, its wise old hero George Smiley is discussing the inherent paradox of the cover stories that spies adopt. "The more identities a man has," Smiley says, "the more they express the person they conceal."

This fan-dance of identity — with its many concealments and revelations — is central to American Spy, an excitingly sharp debut novel by the talented newcomer Lauren Wilkinson.

When people talk about art, they often argue over whether individual works can be truly universal. One who thinks they can is Asghar Farhadi, the gifted Iranian filmmaker who in recent years has won foreign film Oscars for both A Separation and The Salesman.

April will mark the 25th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, a 100-day period in which world leaders stood idly by as more than 800,000 people — Tutsi minorities and moderate Hutus — were murdered by the majority Hutus, who had been whipped into a homicidal frenzy by their leaders.

It's impossible to talk about Great Britain these days without talking about Brexit, the United Kingdom's pending departure from the European Union. Of course, it's easier to say you're leaving a longtime partnership than to do it, and two and a half years after the referendum that decided the issue, what leaving means is still unknown.

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It's often said that we regret the things we don't do more than the ones we do. Each December, I'm haunted by all the books, movies and shows that I've loved but haven't managed to get on the air. Wailing in my ear and rattling my shelves, these neglected spirits come together to demand their rightful places on what I call my annual Ghost List.

Paddington 2 (available on DVD, HBO, and streaming on multiple platforms)

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Ever since I was young, I've loved stories set in the far-flung reaches of the West's many empires — from the British Raj of E. M. Forster's A Passage to India to the surreal Vietnam of Apocalypse Now. And I still love them, though I now realize that they usually look at other cultures from the vantage point of outsiders, even intruders.

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Near the end of John Le Carré's great spy novel Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, one of the agents notices that his car's passenger door is unlocked. He instantly begins wondering how that happened. "Survival," he thinks, "is an infinite capacity for suspicion."

That capacity gets put to the test in Bodyguard, a new BBC series created by Jed Mercurio, who's known for his compelling shows about the dark side of public institutions.

Everyone is familiar with the official film genres, like the Western or the romantic comedy. But most of us divide movies into less intellectual categories.

There are movies that everybody has to see, like A Star is Born. There are movies you couldn't pay me to see; in my case, that's anything with the word "Saw" in its title. And then there are movies we know we ought to see but dread having to go.

Copyright 2018 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

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Copyright 2018 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

Copyright 2018 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

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